MERS' Role in Foreclosures

Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) is a Delaware Company based in Reston, Virginia.  MERS is named on nearly all mortgages and deeds of trust in the USA as the “beneficiary” of the mortgage “solely as nominee for lender and lender’s successors and assigns.”  As is the case in these days of securitization, the original lender named in a mortgage or deed of trust is not usually the party that attempts to foreclose on the loan.  That means the original lender sold the loan into the secondary market, either to be securitized by Wall Street or otherwise. 

Since the 2008 housing crisis, many Texas state courts and Texas federal courts have upheld the proposition that a homeowner may challenge the standing of a bank that claims the right to conduct foreclosure.  These cases hold that a party that is not the original lender has to show an unbroken chain of assignments and/or transfers from the original lender to itself of either the mortgage note or deed of trust in order to foreclose. 

However, the banks have used MERS’ status as “beneficiary” of the security instrument “solely as nominee for lender and lender’s successors and assigns” to try to avoid showing what parties actually are in the chain ofassignments and/or transfers of the loan documents.  The banks will simply file an assignment in the real property records from MERS to the party that is foreclosing and argue that such an assignment demonstrates a complete chain of assignments from the original lender to the party that is foreclosing.  However, on nearly every MERS assignment, MERS does not state for whom they are acting as “nominee” in making the assignment; rather they simply recite that MERS is acting “solely as nominee for lender and lender’s successors and assigns.”  The question thus becomes, for whom is MERS making the assignment for as a “nominee”?

It is common knowledge that MERS does not actually hold or own mortgages or mortgage notes in its own name.  This is the conclusion reached by a federal judge in the Southern District of Texas in the case of Nueces County v. MERSCORP Holdings, Inc., No. 2:12-CV-00131 (Docket #70), 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93424 (S.D. Tex. July 3, 2013) (“MERS is not a lender, and it does not have the rights of a lender, note holder, or note owner to enforce a promissory note and seek a judgment against a debtor for the repayment of loans.  MERS is merely an agent or nominee of its members, who are banks, lenders, and other financial institutions that hold and trade promissory notes secured by deeds of trust naming them as the lenders and MERS as the beneficiary.”  Id. at 12 (emphasis added).  “MERS has no right to enforce the promissory notes or seek judgments against borrowers in default. MERS is simply the nominee of the beneficiaries of the security instruments with the right to foreclose on behalf of the secured parties under the deeds of trust. In sum . . . Texas law [does not] support Defendants’ argument that MERS may serve as a secured party or lienholder.”  Id. at 22 (emphasis added)).  You can read a copy of Nueces County v. MERSCORP Holdings, Inc. here.

Jackson & Elrod, LLP has several cases pending where this issue has been presented to the courts.  As of this writing, the firm has been able to convince one Texas federal court that MERS’ failure to identify for whom they are acting as “nominee” in a mortgage assignment creates a claim under the Texas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for “misrepresenting the status or nature of a debt.”  Johnson v. Morrison Home Funding et. al., No. H-14-2549 (Docket #30) (S.D. Tex. August 6, 2015).  You can read a copy of the Johnson memorandum and order here.

Jackson & Elrod, LLP will continue to fight to protect Texas homeowners’ common law right to have the foreclosing bank reveal the true real-parties-in-interest along a chain of assignments and/or transfers of a loan.  If the banks are allowed to skirt this requirement, they will be incentivized to blow up more housing bubbles since the law will not require them to actually complete contemporaneous transfer documents when a loan is sold in the secondary market.  The ability to flash-trade mortgage loans leads to speculative bubbles and a lot of innocent victims in our society when the bubbles crash.